Golfers of more modest means got a chance at Sandhills golf with Wild Horse’s 1999 opening. It began with a simple question. Wild Horse pro Don Graham says Gothenburg investors were planning a new course when they looked at the Sand Hills Golf Club 90 miles away and asked, "Why can’t we have a course like that? " They hired course architects Dan Proctor and Dave Axland, fresh off the crew building the Mullen course, and went to work.
Farmers brought tractors to form tee boxes and greens. Fifty people showed up to raise the clubhouse. Their efforts created one of golf’s biggest bargains. Because Wild Horse relied on naturally sandy soil for greens, laid fairways where hills dictated and left natural bunkers in place, its construction required about 10 percent of the soil-moving used on most courses.
"It was kind of a barn-raising party, " Graham says. "It’s just a very nice small town coming together to build something spectacular. "
Typical courses, Whitten says, cost upward of $3 million. One green can cost more than $30,000. Wild Horse’s price tag (land and clubhouse included) was $1.5 million. That’s one reason golfers pay only about $50 to enjoy a course that has grabbed a fistful of awards, including a No. 25 ranking on Golfweek’s list of best courses built since 1960 and No. 8 on Golf & Travel’s 2001 list of best daily fee courses.
Out on the course, Wild Horse feels like it would be equally comfortable for kilt-wearing Scottish highlanders or sun-baked cowboys. The landscape echoes the spirit of ancestral courses, but horseshoes mark tees, cow skulls indicate yardage along fairways and a windmill creaks away in the middle of the layout.
As I step to the first tee, I review Whitten’s advice about prairie courses. The fairways look impeccably green, but Whitten warned they'd be hard and fast in the arid West. "Average golfers feel like they’re hitting the ball farther than ever before because of all the roll, " he says. "You may be 200 yards out, but a 160-yard shot will bounce and roll onto the green. "